October 2003


OK, time for some complaints.

October is finally here, so it’s summertime in San Francisco and it’s too hot.

I’m sitting here in my underwear with every window in the house open because it’s too damn hot to even think about going to bed. I’ve got all the lights off except for the computer screen so as not to generate any unnecessary heat. I suppose this is the payback for the day being so gorgeous that I spent a good chunk of it just cruising around the adjacent neighborhoods on the Segway going from shop to shop invigorating the local economy. I did some serious invigorating in the bookstore, perhaps because I’ve been a bit down recently and done little but read and am thus depleting my pile of unread books.

Luckily I have learned not to leave the house on the Segway without wearing my backpack since without it I have no way to carry home impulse purchases. The good news is that the pack imposes a limit. When it’s full, I must go home.

I just finished Simon Winchester’s Krakatoa. Stupid me, I thought it was going to be a book about a volcano. You know, bright lights, explosions, gouts of lava, pyroclastic flows….that sort of thing. It was, of course, but it covered the volcano so thoroughly that it really should be right there beside McPhee’s Annals of the Former World in the Plate Tectonics Department. That is, unless you’re thinking about all the social implications he discusses and put it in the Social Studies Department.

As an aside here, Winchester finally tipped the scales on Max Havelaar. His was one too many mentions of this book the past couple of years, so I went ahead and put it on order while I was in the bookstore. No, the English translation.

I had received in yesterday’s mail a long article Chris had clipped from that bastion of fluffy, light-hearted reading, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagzeitung, and I searched the envelope in vain for a translation. Unfortunately, since I do understand at a glance many of the words in the first few sentences, I know it’s about a European version of the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market or perhaps Copia.

So I’m going to have to spend a day or two looking up the remaining words and untangling the Allgemeine’s famously difficult syntax and will thus not be interested in taking on a Dutch novel in Dutch, even a short one that arguably altered the course of Dutch history. Now that I think about it, it was perhaps the Dutch Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

But enough on that. The real reason I’m writing this note is to pass on a line from Molly Ivins’ Bushwhacked, her best-selling exposé of Dubya’s dirtier deeds which she leavens with wit occasionally lest you slit your wrists in despair. For example, she quotes William Brann: “The trouble with our Texas Baptists is that we do not hold them under water long enough.”

Yes, William Cowper Brann, editor of the late-nineteenth-century Texas magazine,The Iconoclast. Brann realized the secret ambition of all journalists: he wrote columns so incisive, so scathing, so savagely satirical, that one afternoon on the streets of Waco a freshly-enraged reader paid him the ultimate compliment by shooting him…in the back.

Brann fell, mortally wounded, but as he fell he managed, like a true Texan, to get the last word by turning, drawing his pistol, and killing his assailant.

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The day began badly.

I discovered that the order to fix my DSL had fallen through the cracks eleven days ago and that getting back up will take at least another week. I was just barely polite, being just furious…mainly at myself for being so stupid as to sit here for eleven damn days without bugging somebody.

But then, the forecast was for a gorgeous day and by ten or so the fog had retreated out of sight to the west, so I decided that instead of sitting here seething I’d hop on the Segway. I find that the wind blowing through my hair cools and relaxes my brain.

And then I realized that well, hey, this would be an excellent day to head out to Golden Gate Park and take a look at the newly-restored San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers, a spectacular pile of Victorian gingerbread that just re-opened a couple of weeks ago after being basically taken apart and reconstructed piece by reinforced piece after having been near-mortally wounded in the Great Storm of 1995.

I promised dear ones that if I didn’t crest the hill and plunge into a bank of fog so thick that, owing to the wind-chill factor, I was transformed instantly into a rolling Popsicle, I’d write a report upon my return

This is it.

The park was positively basking in the sun, and the conservatory is better than ever. Well, actually, it’s practically the same except that at the extremes of the wings there are new refinements. The lily pad pond at the end of the right wing is now a hydrologist’s delight and the pads are handsome and up to about four feet across with big purple blossoms arising from the water between them. Amazing. And hey, they don’t have those signs up anymore asking you for God’s sake please don’t chunk stuff onto them to see whether they’ll collapse.

Out on the left wing there is a kid-friendly learning area with rotating exhibits. The current exhibit is on butterflies, and I must say it’s just delightful to be in a large room with hundreds of butterflies flitting all around you. You are cautioned not to grab them off blossoms or out of the air, and if one of them should choose to bless you by alighting upon you, you are enjoined to just enjoy the moment because the butterfly will soon find you less delicious than you looked and depart.

Great fun, although afterwards I had a dark thought: they must have penned those butterflies up and half starved them. They sure were greedy for those blossoms.

Despite the fun, there were two downsides. First, except for the highland rain forest area, every room was oppressively hot and steamy. This is bearable because we know it’s a necessity. The other negative is the incredibly tacky multicolored lights that someone chose to more or less randomly cast onto foliage and blossoms. It’s like putting a neon frame around the Mona Lisa. Where’s our taste gone?

Then I realized the colors were awfully pure and in very limited amounts and that oh hell, they’re from natural prisms in the panes of glass! Aren’t I happy I suffered in silence on that one?

And speaking of plants, we Californians sure do know how to make the most of self-inflicted adversity, even before he’s inaugurated. Yesterday’s San Francisco Chronicle included an ad from a big discount builders’ supply nursery for, and I quote this letter for letter, “hausplonts.”

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